Vindication Swim – REVIEW

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Vindication Swim - the UK's first female swimming record holder

It’s been over 50 years since we had Burt Lancaster as The Swimmer in the existential film of the same name back in 1968. Since then film swimmers have been few and far between and ‘Duncan Goodhew – the movie’ is unlikely to set the box office alight. But Vindication Swim is one of those long forgotten and little known true stories that has been bought to the big screen. Set in the 1920’s it follows Mercedes Gleitze (Kirsten Callaghan), a young woman with German heritage. By day a stenographer, by night or least every weekend a  keen swimmer who wants to attempt that most British of sporting records, to be the first female to swim the English channel.

To that end she persuades Harold Best (John Locke) a former and now long retired swimmer to coach her in preparation for her attempt. And so we get many scenes of her swimming in the sea (Hastings amongst other coastal locations) with Best and an oarsman rowing after her in what looks like a recreation of Brexiteers chasing fleeing migrants. After eight attempts she manages it only to find a matter of days later that a rival Edith Gale (Victoria Summer) has bested her time although the  accolade soon transpires to be a poorly executed hoax on Gale’s part.

Gleitze finds herself up against a number of obstacles from a media now doubtful about her own effort and pressurize her into doing the swim again in far colder conditions than would normally be attempted and is hindered further with a shameful lack of support from the swimming association whose attitude to female swimmers is makes shamed football pundit Andy look like Germaine Greer.  Her attempt to prove her record yet again is the Vindication Swim of the title but can she actually pull it off in such adverse conditions?

Not only is this actress Kirsten Callaghan’s first role it is her first lead role and she bears a striking resemblance to the real life swimmer and she is very good as Gleitze. In turn demure, retiring yet determined and should ensure far more roles for her in the future. She is ably supported by John Locke as her often belligerent trainer who himself has a passing resemblance to Timothy Spall.

Vindication Swim is a small scale independent film written and directed by Elliott Hasler who vies with Jack Spring as one of the UK’s youngest film directors and this is his second feature film. Made against as many obstacles as Gleitize the film was made intermittently over the covid lockdown period on a low budget and as the behind the scenes stories of the making of Jaws has shown, he’s shot his film in the most unforgiving of circumstances at sea. It’s not perfect – some of the dialogue is trite, Gleitze’s  background and motivation deserves to be explored more but that doesn’t take away from what is frequently a strikingly framed and photographed film of a story that’s well worth telling.

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Here’s the Vindication Swim trailer……

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